Earlier this week, President Donald Trump said an escalating trade war with China may negatively impact farmers. The U.S. is threatening to impose as much as $150 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods, and the Chinese government has threatened its own tariff hikes, and one of the items mentioned, soybeans, is the largest row crop in Arkansas.
During a cabinet meeting this week, Trump said farmers may be impacted if tariffs are imposed.
“If during the course of the negotiation they want to hit the farmers because they think that hits me. I wouldn’t say that’s nice, but I tell you our farmers are great patriots. They understand that they’re doing this for the country. We’ll make it up to them. In the end they’re going to be much stronger than they are right now,” Trump said.
U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, told Talk Business & Politics he’s not worried about a potential trade war, noting that nothing has been set in stone, and negotiations are ongoing. American soybeans are the best in the world, and the Chinese have a population of about 1.5 billion that has to be fed, he said.
“I think right now it’s just rhetoric. … Ultimately our soybeans will find their way to China,” he said.
Soybean producing countries such as Argentina won’t be able to provide the quality or volume of U.S. ag producers, he said. Rural American workers have been hit hard by trade policies during the last several decades, and Crawford said the president is trying to make sure they are represented in Washington, D.C.
Crawford predicts negotiations on the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) will soon end, and he believes farmers won’t be severely impacted. The more than 20-year old NAFTA needed to be renegotiated, especially with respect to technology, he said.
Others in the state’s delegation were not as optimistic as Crawford about avoiding trade wars but were hopeful Arkansas’ agri industry would not be hit.
U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said global markets are critical to the state’s success. China’s trade practices need to be curtailed, however, he added.
“Maintaining access to foreign markets is critical for Arkansas producers. I have shared their concerns with the president and will continue to defend their interests as he works to address China’s unfair trade practices,” Cotton said.
U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., said unfair Chinese trade practices have to be dealt with, but a trade war that negatively impacts farmers can be avoided.
“The escalation in trade rhetoric alone is negatively affecting markets and creating uncertainty, especially for Arkansas’s number one industry, agriculture. For the past five years, Arkansas farmers and rural families have been struggling with low commodity prices, high input costs and non-tariff barriers to trade. Now, retaliatory tariffs are part of that list. This amounts to kicking farmers when they’re already down. We can appropriately hold China accountable for its unfair trade practices without holding our agricultural industry hostage. I will continue to express to the administration how important it is to help ensure that our nation’s farmers, ranchers and producers do not suffer while we work to establish responsible, reciprocal trade with China and our other trading partners across the globe,” Boozman said in a statement.
U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, said farmers are “great patriots,” and he supports free trade. He would have to “evaluate the specifics of proposed deal,” he said. U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, said he hopes Trump will evaluate the impacts — good and bad — the tariffs will have on agriculture-producing states like Arkansas.
“I commend President Trump’s continued efforts to correct unbalanced trade agreements that adversely affect the United States,” he said. “As the president considers future action, it is my hope that he will work with leaders in the agriculture industry, as well as local farmers, so he can understand how tariffs can both hurt and help Arkansas agriculture.”
U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, who represents a primarily urban district, said tariffs should only be used in targeted ways and only on selected products in selected countries.
“Agriculture is the number one economic industry in Arkansas, and I’m proud of all our hardworking farmers. As I’ve stated several times, American agriculture products are usually the first targets for retaliatory trade actions from foreign countries like China,” Hill said. “I’m of the opinion that tariffs are a blunt instrument that should only be used in targeted ways on specific countries and products. We should principally focus our efforts to opening up markets for U.S. exports with services, agricultural, manufacturing, and energy, so we can create more jobs for Arkansans and all Americans and help our farmers prosper.”